Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I'm sure that's what they said ...

Well, not totally certain of this one, and can't be arsed to search any longer for a replay, but I'm pretty sure I heard Ed Milliband, in the Commons, refer to poor people who "... earn in a week what the Chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday!"  Erm... maybe he meant year?

I'm absolutely sure of this one: Michael Gove  on working parents who, because of the school strikes, "... have to scrabble around for expensive childcare."  I daren't even start to try deconstructing that!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Lit crit

I sometimes read that people are considering giving up blogging.  I’d be the last to question this kind of personal decision, it’s none of my business.  Indeed, I’ve given up myself, several times, sometimes for whole days, for my own reasons.

But I hope that the main reason people carry on is that they believe they have something to offer, as entertainment, provocation, or often just plain simple human sharing (not to mention other animals).  I certainly get all of these from the blogs I read and the interactions through the comments.  And, most importantly, I get to read loads of brilliant writing, without having to stir from my sofa or donate a penny to Amazon or Waterstone’s.  So thanks, all of you.

Which brings me neatly to my self-serving point.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to review the start of Clare’s novel: it was a brave and intriguing extension of the bloglit concept, and I hope she got something from it too.  So, does anyone fancy helping me with my children’s novel, ‘Clock and Jeremy’?  It’s a fantasy aimed at the 10 – 12 readership.  Although stylistic criticism is obviously welcome, what I’m really after is ‘where the hell do I take this story from here??’

You can email me via my profile if you want to play.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Words and Music

I had this conversation during a very noisy party last Saturday night.  As discos are, the music was too loud for anyone to hear what the other person was saying, so most of it consisted of lip reading, sign and body language.  I’ve been to too many of these over the years, and there is always a consensus, next day, that conversations – long, intense, heartfelt conversations, lasting for tens of minutes – have taken place, during which intimacies have been exchanged, anxieties exposed, hopes and fears poured out … but luckily, it’s all wiped out because, actually, you only managed to hear about one word in ten.  This isn’t to say that communication didn’t take place: indeed, the heard one in ten might have said more than the unheard nine.  But there’s something to be said for those words that aren’t heard.

So, Zoe was asking me about music, and during a lull I was able to hear and consider her question, which was to do with whether you should respond more to the lyrics or the music of a song.  She felt, I think, that most of the time, at least in the music she liked, lyrics were a distraction, if not an irrelevance, and I have a lot of sympathy with this view.  When I listen to a song, very often it tends to be one or the other; the perfect marriage of the two is rare.  Dylan said ‘If I can sing it, it’s a song; if I can’t, it’s a poem’, but that’s a bit simplistic.  Leonard Cohen wrote an eighty-two verse poem which he distilled down to a song called ‘Hallelujah’, and yet at the moment I’m hearing the tune more than the words.

I was about to counter with ‘Come on over baby, whole lotta shakin’ going on’ as a perfect storm, but then the disco kicked back in and words became irrelevant.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Something with a smile

I don't usually need plastic bags at the supermarket, but occasionally one gets caught short.

ME: Could I have a bag for that please?
ASSISTANT:  I'm sorry, we're out of bags.  [Smiles apologetically, then glances to his left.]  But Customer Services might have some.

I follow his glance.  Customer Services is four feet along the same counter.

It was the smile that did it for me, I think.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I know, I’ve said it before …

… but that’s no reason not to say it again, and again, and again. 

‘Growth’ is ‘predicted’ to ‘flatline’ at 1% for this and next year.  That’s plus 1%, which is bad news.  I have no idea what this means, and nor, it seems, do any of the politicians, economists or journalists who spray this kind of talk around.  Percentages mean nothing unless it’s clear what the percentage is of – ask any statistician.  Is it per annum, which means the base would be the twelve months preceding the date of the prediction?  Or month by month, for example comparing October this year to October last year?  Or some other formula?  I know there’s an answer, but I have never seen it clearly written down.  The Wikipedia article starts ‘This article has multiple issues’, and goes on from there, which just about nails it; but nowhere, as far as I can see, does it define a consensual mechanism by which it’s measured.  And yet, they carry on spraying, for all the world as if they were saying something meaningful.  They’re not.
I’m not going down the ethical, social or biodynamic byways, that’ll have to be for another day, but let’s just pretend that this ‘growth’ stuff constitutes, in some way, an increase in productive economic activity.  So, if this activity, however measured (but with the proviso that it as to be productive), was, say, 100 units in year one, in year two it would be 101.  In year three, just over 102, and so on.  That’s an increase (however slow against perceived expectations).  So, given that economic activity is increasing exponentially, year on year, how come what I’ll call well-being (for example, employment, earnings for those employed, support for those who aren’t or can’t be, education for entrants, etc.) is, by any objective measure, declining?
That’s enough.  Well, nearly.  On a lighter note, I heard Mervyn King tell us that he can’t predict what’s going to happen to the euro next week, never mind next year; and then go on solemnly to deliver his confident forecasts for growth, inflation, interest rates, solar flares, asteroid activities, alien invasion (okay, I exaggerate slightly).  Ha ha.  Not funny, actually.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Alternating current account

Like many people, I pay for my electricity by monthly direct debit, spreading the cost evenly across the year.  As you know, the idea is that a surplus at the end of the summer covers the extra consumption during the winter. 

So when I got my six-monthly bill the other day I was pleased to see that they owed me about £150.  Good, I thought, that’ll see me through the next few months when it’s colder, darker and more boring.  The system’s working.  Then I read on.  “…which we will refund to your bank account on or soon after 6 November 2011.”  Hang on, though: that means that, come the spring, I’ll owe them money; and I bet they’ll put my monthly payments up in response, which means next autumn they’ll owe me more money, which they’ll refund, which means … you get the picture.  A positive feedback loop.

I remember a variant of this a few years back, when instead of issuing a refund, they proposed to reduce my payments over the winter, which would mean … oh, I can’t go on.  On that occasion I phoned them up and explained.  “Oh yes, the computer does that,” the call centre told me.  “We have to go in and override it.  We get this all the time.”

I don’t think I can be bothered to phone this time, but if I do I want a word with that computer.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Wodehouse or Chandler?

There are no other contenders for the title (which I'm not even going to bother to identify).  To help you along, here are a couple of quotes, picked more or less at random:

There was a desk and a night clerk with one of those moustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.
Degarmo lunged past the desk towards an open elevator beside which a tired old man sat on a stool waiting for a customer.  The clerk snapped at Degarmo's back like a terrier.
'One moment, please.  Whom did you wish to see?'
Degarmo spun on his heel and looked at me wonderingly.  'Did he say "whom"?'
'Yeah, but don't hit him,' I said.  'There is such a word.'
Degarmo licked his lips.  'I knew there was,' he said.  'I often wondered where they kept it.'

And -

Women never know when to stop on these occasions.
I remember Mrs Bingo Little once telling me, shortly after their marriage, that Bingo said poetic things to her about sunsets - his best friends being perfectly aware, of course, that the odd egg never noticed a sunset in his life and that, if he did by a fluke ever happen to do so, the only thing he would say about it would be that it reminded him of a slice of roast beef, cooked just right.
However, you can't call a girl a liar; so, as I say, I said: 'Well, well!'

Difficult call, isn't it?

But I must say, I did enjoy typing that!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Nothing really changes

For some reason, Soaring posted the following in a blog comment.  It concerns the resignation, on the 18th of March 1911, of the Italian prime minister Luigi Luzatti:
Although a man of first-class financial ability, great honesty and wide culture, he had not the strength of character necessary to lead a government: he showed lack of energy in dealing with opposition and tried to avoid all measures likely to make him unpopular.
I promised to come up with an equivalent to reflect today’s equivalent:
Although a man of fourth-class financial integrity, great manoeuvrability and bunga bunga culture, he had not the brown-nosed flexibility necessary to lead a government: he showed excess of early-day corruption in dealing with opposition and tried to encourage all measures likely to make him richer.
Will that do?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sometime for your diary

I'm sure everybody already knows this, but around coffee time next Friday, here in Britain, it will be
11:11:11:11:11:11.  GMT.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bearing Debts...

They've been on a bit of a bender,
The Eurozone's champion spender;
But the Oracle speaks:
"We shall bail out those Greeks;
Just one caveat: no referenda!"

Alternative lines 3 - 4:
But we'll bail out those Greeks
(and curate their antiques) -

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Endangered Species

I see that zebra crossings are disappearing due to the march of technology.  Those are the ones marked by Belisha beacons (named in 1934 after half of the Transport Minister Leslie Hore-Belisha, the other half having presumably already been taken).

Well, not around here.  Oxford Road currently contains about nine pelicans or puffins or whatever they’re called (the ones controlled by lights), and there is a proposal (not yet implemented, but it’s only been four months) to replace several of these with zebras, so as to speed up the buses.  I suggested at a local meeting that doing away with the bus stops would achieve this even better, but for some reason that didn’t go down very well.

I do hope the zebra crossing doesn’t become entirely extinct, as this would involve the loss of one of my favourite road signs, in Honey End Lane: ‘HUMPED ZEBRA CROSSING’.


In other completely unrelated news, I’ve just heard some minister, on ‘The World At One’, explain that the 0.5% growth figures must be welcomed as ‘better than predicted’.  Doesn't he mean ‘the predictions were wrong’?